Why we should start talking to the applicants we reject

Here is what I learned when I started giving feedback to internship applicants I rejected:

Whenever we set out to recruit interns for the Graduateland marketing department, the applications roll into my email account. We usually get between 60 and 120 applications, and so far we’ve always managed to find great candidates to work with us. But this is not their story.

This is the story of the vast majority of the internship applicants we do not hire – and the experiences I have made so far when getting to know them at least a little bit. All of that started when I began hiring interns at Graduateland in 2015. Sending out emails with rejections to applicants, I started to include the following sentence:

“I want to offer you to give feedback on your application if you drop me an e-mail.”

At the time, that seemed like a hiring manager’s professional equivalent of touching a hot stove to see if it is really hot. After all, there are a number of sensible arguments for NOT offering feedback to rejected applicants, such as…

  • It takes you forever to do it.
  • You’re subjecting yourself to the risk of lengthy discussions and legal arguments.
  • You are wasting precious resources on people you don’t even want to hire.

One of the luxuries of working in a startup is that you can list all these very valid points and then choose to ignore them for the sake of moving fast and breaking things. After all, if people like Richards Branson write blog posts advocating to “treat people who don’t get jobs as well the ones who do“, it seemed worth a try. About 2 years and 350 applications into the experiment, here are some of my preliminary conclusions:

1. Yes, it does take some extra time – but less than feared

I once read somewhere that “the truth is a rare good, but the supply still exceeds the demand for it”. When it comes to offering feedback to student applicants that seems definitely true. I find that for the rejection emails that I send out offering feedback, the average response rate is around 10%.

Learning so far: This is a bit of a blow to a hiring manager’s ego, but applicants do not hold their breath waiting for my decision – they move on, they apply elsewhere (or they don’t even read my emails to the very end). To most of them, a simple “no” suffices and the offer of feedback remains a nice gesture.

2. The 10% who do want feedback seem almost heartbreakingly grateful for it

I keep noticing that those people who actually respond to my feedback offer are the ones who were sort of on the right track with their application but just took a wrong turn somewhere along they way. In that sense, I always try to be constructive in terms of what they can improve, but also tell them what they did right in my eyes. As to the fear of narky remarks, passive-aggressive comebacks or snide comments, here is a sample of the answers I have gotten so far:

“This was the best and most appropriate feedback I ever received. There is nothing I don’t agree with, and I will definitely use it in the future.”

“Thanks a lot for your feedback I appreciate that 🙂 Have a great day and good luck with Graduateland.”

“Thank you very much for your feedback, it has been very useful.”

Learning so far: The above quotes are not to toot my own horn, but to illustrate the point that – when it comes to applicant feedback – our sense of risk versus reward may be skewed. We allow the fear of an occasional troll (whom I for one have yet to encounter) to control the way we interact with dozens of decent applicants who are genuinely interested in improving. Which brings me to my 3rd point…

3. Offering applicants feedback may be the most undervalued employer branding tool out there

No matter, if applicants actually appreciate it or not, here are some other responses to my offering feedback:

“I’m very surprised that you offered a feedback on my application, never seen that before”

“It’s good to know that recruiters are reading it [the application]”

“It is great to experience that Graduateland really cares about the problems that graduates usually have to face – such as not getting relevant feedback.”

There are more like that, the common denominator being:

Why are you doing that? NOBODY does that.

Learning so far: So, yes, giving rejected applicants feedback costs time and thought, time is money, and by that logic, it means the higher cost will eventually be attributed to those you do end up hiring. Great, come and watch your recruitment KPIs take a dive! Okay, so maybe don’t carve feedback time for rejectees out of your precious junior recruitment budget. But what about your employer branding?

First of all, it turns out you don’t always have to strain any muscles coming up with a witty tag line or getting your social media campaign to go viral. Offering feedback to younger applicants is a unique campaign hidden in plain sight – it’s so obvious that we tend to forget it’s actually an option. Plus, it gives you the chance to interact directly with people who are already engaged with your company and giving them a positive experience, despite not having a job for them.

Secondly, just because an applicant may not be perfect and relevant now, doesn’t mean they won’t become relevant in the future. Students and graduates at the beginning of their careers are still evolving – and, for that matter, so are companies. Even if we never end up hiring them, they might know and influence people we want to hire at some point.

Lastly, and more personally, it’s very tempting to just take that big accusing “No” pile of applications that accumulates on your desk and shove it into the bin. We all have that pile. But more importantly, we have all been in that “No” pile at some point.

Most students and graduates we talk to have no image of a recruiter or hiring manager in their head, that’s why they find it so difficult to compose meaningful and relevant applications – they have no idea who reads them (and evidently sometimes wonder if anybody bothers reading them at all). Giving feedback seems like a decent way of filling that blank space with an image. Even if it’s just the image of someone who remembers what it’s like to look for a job straight out of university.

I haven’t invented the practice of giving feedback to rejected applicants nor am I claiming to be the only one who does it. I do it because I have, in the past, encountered recruiters and hiring managers who did the same for me. For all I know, the only difference between them and me is that they are not writing blog posts about it (probably because they are too busy writing applicant feedbacks).

So this is a shoutout to all of those who regularly give feedback to applicants and to those grateful for hearing it: What are your experiences with giving or receiving feedback on applications? Feel free to share in the comments below or by dropping me an email at gh@graduateland.com

Finally! Uni of Copenhagen is part of the Graduateland Network from Jan ’17

It is with super excitement that we’re welcoming the University of Copenhagen into the Graduateland family.

Graduateland will be operating the official career portal of the University of Copenhagen from January 2017, and +40.000 students from Denmark’s by far oldest and most prominent university will be within reach, covering a wide spectrum of academic fields.

This truly adds value to anybody who recruits in Copenhagen, across Denmark, across Scandinavia, or across Europe. Well, just about anybody who wants to recruit fantastic students and graduates from one of Europe’s top universities. We look forward to helping you get in touch with your next employee.


That was the short version. If you’re a busy recruiter you can consider the main points acknowledged and continue the day’s task of recruiting some great talent.

If you have already swung up your legs to the desk with your latte-mochaccino within reach, feel free to linger a little longer, and allow me to elaborate a bit.


A little piece of history

As it turns out, this is not the first time we have tried to partner up with the University of Copenhagen (KU). While our startup was still in its toddler stage we actually bid on the portal – this was back in the dark ages of 2011. As any other opportunistic entrepreneur, you throw yourself into the deep end of the pool and hope for the best. Back then we did not convince KU that we would be the best career portal supplier, and in hindsight, I do not blame them. However, back then we were grinding our teeth in disappointment.

Not discouraged we continued to tour Scandinavia with our PowerPoint presentations and Copenhagen Business School and Lund University became partners during the following months.

Suddenly, we had cases to show, and, naturally, we kept tabs on when KU would open the window for a new career portal partner. That took 5 years. But here we are now.

Consequently, most of my vacation on Bali was spent behind the screen, though still with a great view.

We believe that welcoming KU into the Graduateland Network will dial up our capabilities and position ourselves as the obvious go-to-place for recruiters on the lookout for university talent – especially when it comes to recruitment in Scandinavia.

Where our initial Danish partner, Copenhagen Business School, not surprisingly educates candidates within business administration, finance, marketing etc. the focus of KU is much wider, and we will be adding several new academic fields to the mix. These include computer science, law, political science, life sciences, medicine, pharmacology, humanities, languages and more.

Previously, these academic fields have been covered by our university partners in Sweden, the Benelux, the UK, and candidates that have been signing up via Graduateland.com, but partnering up with KU will no doubt increase the amount and diversity of accessible university talent for companies.

All in all – great news for companies that recruit Danish students and graduates with an international mindset.

Life after a Virtual Career Fair

We hosted our first virtual career fair last Wednesday. It was a pretty hectic day. As soon as the clock struck 4 pm everybody at the office clapped, and instantaneously opened a cold beer. Much deserved, we all agreed.

The entire Graduateland team has been looking forward to launching the virtual career fair for many months, and the concept resonates exceptionally well with our vision of creating touch points between university talent and employers.

Many major industries have seen disruption the last years, and the rest will be seeing it soon. The biggest innovations in recruitment, however, have been to 1) take the ‘We’re hiring’ sign in the shop window and put it into a newspaper ad, and then 2) take that job ad and put it on an online job board.

When sex is the driver you’ll see innovation spark! Dating apps are using ‘Super Likes’, ‘Swipe Ups’, geolocation, ephemeral selfies and other means to interact for the sole purpose of setting up connections, getting people to engage with each other, and hopefully creating meaningful matches.

Fundamentally, recruitment evolves around the same principles. But recruitment and employer branding are yet to leverage the many ways that interaction can happen. And considering how the demographic segment of students and graduates is brought up with smartphones and the associated constant online presence, there definitely are some low hanging fruits to pick.

So… put on your fruit picking hat, we’re going into the apple orchard!

Thanks to all the first movers!

The online career fair that we executed yesterday had almost 20 participating companies. The support and enthusiasm from these companies have been a major validation that real-time online interaction and communication (some use the short term ‘chat’) is part of the future of recruitment.

And first of all – a huge tip of the hat to you for taking a chance with this initiative and jumping on the first mover wagon. I know that a powerful employer brand is a delicate thing and sometimes requires that you treat it like a Chinese vase. And that means not trying too many crazy things. So I genuinely think it’s fantastic that you wanted to be part of this first event.

Many complex elements can be added to the ideal virtual career fair experience, but according to startup principles, you must not build a rocket ship before you test the market. Consequently, we teamed up with a third-party provider of said online career fair software, and thus the creative wiggle room was somewhat limited.

Evaluating the Career Fair

Okay, I’ll say it – yes, we did experience some technical issues and connecting several autonomous systems via custom API’s can prove to be challenging. We’re following up on everybody that participated and hearing your feedback.

We had done a pinky swear to the corporate participants that we’d make sure that we could get the right candidates to visit their online career booth. Post-career fair I feel that I can reveal that we were quite unsure about exactly how many candidates should attend the fair for it to be a success. It’s a fine balance between too few and too many, and since there are no candy bowls and free pens the candidates either find a vacant recruiter to converse with, or move on to the next booth.

Like anybody hosting anything, it’s always a nail-biting experience to see if anybody actually shows up. Well, in this case, they did. Big time. The career fair opened at 11 am, and already then +1.000 students and graduates were ready.

I imagine that the recruiters, who were sitting all across Europe, were surprised as well – from 0 to 50 conversations as the clock struck 11. Almost too much of the good stuff.

As the career fair went on the activity hit a more reasonable level, and in hindsight, we can see that our activity level resembles that of physical career fairs; extremely busy when the doors open, perfect ratio of candidates to recruiters in the middle, and a slightly calmer ambience towards the end of the day.

Digging into the numbers

Shakira claims that hips don’t lie – in our case, numbers don’t lie. Almost 2.000 unique students and graduates visited the career fair, from an impressive number of countries. That said, the vast majority (70%) were from Scandinavia, convenient for the many Scandinavian recruiters.

According to our principles of Permission Recruitment we should only facilitate a connection between candidates and companies if both parties live up to the preferences of the other. This worked in theory, but a few technicalities resulted in the filtering being a bit inhibited. And the convenient hole in the system where you could bypass the criteria from the companies, by accessing the chats from the front page, and not via the company booth.

Well, move fast and break things, as they say at Facebook, and I agree in the sense that if we were to develop the ideal career fair system ourselves for this version 1 we’d still be developing, and there’d be months of hard work ahead. We’ve learnt so much from this career fair yesterday, and we’re already looking forward to the next round.

Our overall experience is definitely great, and the users we’ve heard from had a valuable experience. At the end of the day, that’s the key element for us. Visitors spent an average of +26 minutes on the career fair, and our first surveys show that 50% of users prefer to meet companies online, as opposed to physically, in the future. Definitely interesting.

We keep on pushing the scope of how to make university talent and employers interact in order to kickstart great careers.

Career fair: checkmark. Next month: Graduateland Insights, quantifying your employer brand!

Inputs from outside the bubble


Intercom – a US-based tech company – once wrote on their blog that in order to build great products the product manager should say NO to most ideas. A humorous and insightful blog post that lists a multitude of scenarios of product prioritization gone wrong. Of course this is only half of the truth, but if you want your blog to be read you gotta be a little black/white. Reading their blog post you’d think that a product manager should never listen to anyone.

That is of course not the right way to build products.

At Graduateland we consider ourselves pretty good at maintaining a well-planned product roadmap and fortunately it’s rare that we design and build features that have not been prioritised and planned.

This in sharp contrast to the first years of the startup where lack of experience resulted in quick decisions, a fogged product vision, and consequently a lot of wasted time spent building random stuff.

However, having three substantially different stakeholders in our online universe (job seekers, employers, and university staff) we gotta keep on our toes in order to build features that are useful and will be used.

The most recent features that we did end up implementing due to a suggestion from a university partner was the possibility to add video material to your My Profile page. For candidates within the creative areas it will be a great means to showcase visual portfolios, enabling them to showcase themselves in line with the skills that they actually have.

For students within the remaining academic areas the video functionality opens up the possibility to add a video CV, giving them an edge in the battle for attention from employers.

my profile video

As we touch upon in our article about video CVs the average recruiter spends very little time scanning each individual CV, so everything you can do to stand out should be considered.

The classical CV as we know it may soon be dying. It’s about tapping into the digital possibilities that are at our finger tips, and a video presentation builds up a candidate’s employee brand, in the same way as a corporate video does a much better job at selling a future employer as opposed to just blocks of text.

Ultimately, we work towards improving the matchmaking process between university talent and great employers. If a video functionality helps this process, then there will be resources to build it.

Graduateland’s new look

You may notice something slightly different about Graduateland when visiting our website these days…


Yes, it’s a completely new logo – and, more importantly, it’s our very first logo after having stuck with the good old  graduateland_logo_OLD -lettering pretty much from the very beginning.

The old lettering has served us well for years. And, of course, we know all those sayings:

“Never change a winning team.”

“If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

We just don’t entirely agree with them.   


So why the change? Well…

…because it’s about time.

Let’s start with the most obvious reason: the practicality of a logo that needs to work in a digital world. What we needed was a significant visual brand that could work in all the different digital channels that we have. Approximately 13% of our website traffic is already coming from mobile devices and every trend study about online recruitment will tell you that the ratio is going to tip further in that direction. That’s even more pointed when we’re talking about the youngest generation of job-seekers. We want to give these users and customers something to look at – an icon that is easily recognisable on any screen size.

Having taken a couple of detours during the development process that covered different shapes, colours and sizes, we have now landed with a simple, but distinctively sharp icon (plus new logo font) that responds to different formats.

…because it’s about branding.

We are very outspoken about our belief that recruitment and marketing are becoming more and more intertwined, building the case that a strong employer brand will ultimately result in attracting the best university talent. Therefore, it only makes sense for us to follow our own mantra.    

Our UX Designer, Nik, set out to create a visual that our users could automatically identify with Graduateland. Repositioning the G & L letters to create a graduation hat was one of those ‘eureka’ moments during our research and development phase.


A sketch from before the ‘eureka’-moment

If you do something, you might as well do it properly, so we didn’t stop at the colours either: away we went from the traditional blue to a new green tone. Users and customers may recognise the colour from the major actions and buttons that take them around our platform, for example, when sending an application or posting a job. We like the green because it’s a starting signal, a “go ’n’ get them”-colour, that represents the kind of interactive recruitment that we want to facilitate on the Graduateland Network.


A sneak peek into the colour debate



…because we’re only just getting started.

Speaking of which, the Graduateland product team has been gearing up to make changes as well – a lot of them you are already seeing, and more are still in the pipeline.

The logo is really only a fraction of the transition that our product and service has been through in just a couple of months – a process that is still ongoing:

We want to fundamentally improve and change the traditional way of recruitment by making it more interactive, relevant and clever.

Below, our Product & Marketing Manager Jonas has chosen to highlight 3 product improvements coming up, that we have great expectations for. We plan to:

  • Accommodate instant messaging between recruiters and candidates,
  • Create talent pools, enabling employer branding managers to build up talent pipelines in order to communicate and interact with separate target groups,
  • Leverage candidate data (of preferences and behaviour) in more intelligent ways to help recruiters make better decisions in their recruitment strategy.

And that’s just a small excerpt of the roadmap until the end of the year.


So, going back to those famous sayings about change…

…here’s our take:

Over the course of the past year we have totally redesigned our platform, defined our strategy for making digital recruitment as interactive as we possibly can, and – most recently – bought our biggest competitor. Of course, we change our logo.

How do you like it?


And the winner is… Most popular jobs of 2015 & How to get on the list

most viewed jobs

Graduateland has users from all over the world. We also have jobs in every country. It’s all very international. That said, we have some great partnerships with universities across Europe, and most candidates are located in Scandinavia. Consequently, there may be a little bias towards local jobs searching from our Scandinavian users.

Anyways, it’s pretty interesting to see how many countries are represented on the Top 15 – and the very top of the list is quite a surprise!

Let’s take a look at the most popular jobs of 2015 (based on the number of views – not applications).

top 15 most viewed jobs

Congratulations to everybody on the list!

What we normally see as the key traffic drivers are the following elements:

The company logo

There is simply more reaction to job posts, all other things equal, when the brand and logo are recognized in a split second. The candidate already has prejudices about the company, either as an employer, or because the product or service may appeal positively to him/her. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to recruiters and employer branding officers, and some of you find it fairly easy to get people to interact with you.

Straight-to-the-point job title

When candidates skim down the list of open vacancies they see the logo (that speaks to the heart) and they see the job title (that speaks to the brain). The job title is supposed to get candidates to quickly determine whether clicking on the on the title, and continuing to the job description, is worth their time. As a consequence, jobs that have titles that reveal exactly what the role is, as opposed to an entire sentence (a la We are looking for a profile for our… bla bla bla) will win this battle.
It’s like with online dating apps – if you see a person whose first profile picture is a group of four people, you are not going to bother to click on and try to figure out who it is – you swipe left, and continue to the next opportunity.

Some level of exposure

Naturally there is a certain correlation between getting traffic to your job post, and purchasing added exposure. I’m not going to spend many words on that (since I’d rather avoid making too obvious advertisement for our services) but since job posts that are added via the free solution don’t get to show the company logo in the job search, the first point on this list is taken out of play. And secondly, these free jobs are posted below the paid ones, thus it requires a lot more scrolling from the user to find them.
HOWEVER, we have a mechanism across the Graduateland Network, where the most popular jobs, in regions where we don’t have that many customers, are highlighted automatically. This is simply done in order to improve the user experience for the candidate because we want to show how many great jobs we have online. But don’t count on this happening to your jobs, if you’re recruiting in Europe.

And the final point…

… which doesn’t actually have anything to do with getting jobs views, but more with how to get full value from the visitors that you do get. Now we’re entering 2016, we’re talking about when we should allow self-driving cars on the roads, and we can ride on skateboards that fly. And we are STILL uploading job descriptions in PDF!?! Of course, the functionality is available when uploading a job, but please keep in mind how much job browsing is done via a mobile phone, where PDF files are like that piece of pesto that gets stuck in your teeth before you go to the night club. Everybody sees it, nobody says anything, and you keep dancing around with a shiny green piece of basil in your braces.

Well now I’m saying it: The concept of job descriptions in PDF is broken. It can’t model itself according to the devices its viewed on, and rarely it’s possible to search for the content via site-wide search functionalities. Lastly, the designs and fonts that are used in the PDF (in order to make it consistent with the company brand design) stick out like a sore thumb on every well-designed site, and works contrary to the point. So please use plain text – then I promise you’ll get a better recruitment result.

Happy recruitment in 2016!